What role for forests and the forest-based sector in the EU Green Deal?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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This article is part of our special report EU forest strategy.

The new Forest Strategy is an important piece of the European Commission architecture to deliver on the European Green Deal together with the Fit for 55 package.

Everybody agrees that forests play a key role in combating climate change together with wood-based products. However, the strategy remains contradictory. It seeks to reconcile the climate benefits of wood-based products with the forests’ other economic uses, forest protection and forest role as carbon sinks. It highlights the climate benefits of wood-based products, but at the same time attempts to limit forest use. Similarly, the Fit for 55 package of legislative proposals does not adequately recognise the solutions provided by the forest industry to curb climate change. 

If Member State’s power to decide over forest policy is not acknowledged more clearly in the strategy, there is a continued threat that some pieces of forest decision-making would escape Member States. When implementing the strategy, the diversity of Europe’s forests must be kept in mind: Portuguese cork forests cannot be compared to the coniferous forests in Finland. The methods used for the management and treatment of forests also vary. Diversity should be respected and appreciated instead of pushing a one-size fits all approach.   

As key players in the forest-based value chain, we regret that the strategy focuses much on the sink function of forests and simply misses the holistic contribution that wood-based products can bring to a greener and more circular economy: to keep fossils in the ground! 

We should also remember that the extended forest-based value chain supports 4 million jobs in the green economy. Again, regional variation within EU is large. 

The European forests and the forest-based sector provide integrated solutions to the global climate challenge on a very large scale. At the same time, European forest-based sector helps the EU to reach the targets set in the Green Deal. Together with the product substitution effect, the overall positive climate effect is estimated at 20% of all fossil emissions in the European Union. And there is a plenty of potential that remains untapped with the proposed Forest Strategy.”

In addition, some sectors depending on fossils will now have free allocation, a carbon border measure and an earmarked sink in the forests that these sectors have nothing to do with.

The EU climate policy can’t expect European forests and their sink, to compensate for certain “difficult-to-decarbonise” sectors such as steel or chemicals, it would be counterproductive, inefficient and far from fair.

The European forest-based industry is ready to help make the European Commission three billion trees initiative a success for the long-term sustainable growth of forests. We believe this is the right policy, forests need to be grown more, rather than their use limited. We need more forests in Europe but protecting our forests with a short-term tree-planting exercise or converting them into nature restoration areas will not be sufficient to reach our climate objectives.

Although the world as we knew it came to a halt during the pandemic, we can’t slow down our climate mitigation efforts, the climate can’t wait! 

As Forest-based industry, we have a strategic interest in keeping healthy and growing forests in Europe. 

Harvesting in the EU is still much less than the annual growth and growing stock is increasing every year. Thereby harvesting can be increased alongside with fostered sustainable management of forests which ensure the long-term vitality of the resource, maintenance of biodiversity and supports the achievement of climate neutrality by 2050. 

Forests are not threatened by sustainable forest-based bioeconomy but by the other sectors. And most of all: by climate change. The more fossil material we take from underground, the harder the adaptation will become for forests – shaking the foundations of the policy.  

Sustainable and timely forest management, extending the area of forests and increasingly diverse wood-based solutions together should be at the core of Europe’s green growth.

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